Random Thoughts On Super Bowl Sunday You Could Probably Do Without

Two weeks of anticipation are finally over, and the Big Game is finally here.  I’ve been waiting to comment about it, but hadn’t yet mainly because I couldn’t find any sort of hook to talk about that hasn’t already been driven into the ground covered sufficiently by the media.

So instead, I decided to just throw up a mishmash of random thoughts that have popped into my head over the last two weeks, while I come up with a prediction for the game that 1) won’t be anywhere near the final result, as my track record for picking Super Bowls would be pretty much the same if I’d just flipped a coin all of these years and 2) won’t matter anyway, since no one in the country wagers on these type of events unless they live in Las Vegas where it’s legal to do so (wink, wink).

So that being said, what’s been on my mind this week?

Kurt Warner is a Hall Of Famer, whether he wins today or not

Warner is one of the most remarkable NFL stories of our lifetimes.  Everyone knows already about his rags-to-riches story: his rise to stardom from complete obscurity, his strong faith and values, and the heartwarming story of his marriage to his wife, Brenda.  What many people don’t realize is the tremendous career numbers he’s put up over the years, and at his best, exactly how dominant he’s been.

Did you know that Warner is currently 1st all-time in passing yards per game?  Or that he’s 2nd overall in completion percentage?  Even if you did, it would be easy to say that those rankings don’t mean anything, so far as the Hall of Fame goes, since on both lists, Warner is both surrounded by those enshrined in Canton and those who’ll never get in without a ticket — look no further than Chad Pennington ahead of Warner on that completion percentage list as example of that.

But football isn’t baseball, where stats are almost always the barometer to be used when deciding where a player ranks among their peers.  And football, more so than baseball, rewards the player with the short period of brilliance over the player who grinds it out over the longer period of time, but who is less dominant.  In that, Warner shines, with four seasons (1999-2001, 2008 ) among the best in the NFL during those years, and a fifth (2007) that wasn’t too shabby either.

My feeling is that Warner returns to the Cards in 2009 to add to his career marks in other counting statistics while moving up those lists.  But there aren’t a whole lot of quarterbacks who’ve led their teams to three Super Bowls, and that will be what we remember most about Warner when his career is done.  If I had a vote for the Hall, Warner would get mine, win or lose today.

Larry Fitzgerald is the best wide receiver in football

No, I’m not a closet Arizona fan — I’m just looking at the facts here.  Who would you take for your favorite NFL team right now, if not Fitzgerald?  Terrell Owens?  Clearly on the downside of his career, and the only thing he’s best at anymore is locker-room mischief.  Andre Johnson?  Spectacular at times, but a player whose numbers haven’t been as good as Fitzgerald’s.  Randy Moss?  Also aging, and nowhere near as good as he was in 2007 without Tom Brady throwing to him.  Calvin Johnson?  Maybe soon, but not yet.  Reggie Wayne?  Probably the closest to Fitzgerald, but I’d still take him after the Cardinals star if I was building a team right now.

Of course, there’s a number of other wideouts worth mentioning, but you get the point.  Fitzgerald is a game-changer, a receiver so good he sometimes looks like he’s toying with the opposition on the field.  He’s already set a post-season record for receiving yards in 2008, a total he’ll add to today.  I remember watching Fitzgerald play at the University of Pittsburgh and thinking, This guy is the best receiver I’ve ever seen in college — he’ll be a star in the NFL someday. That day has come, and Fitzgerald is finally getting the due he deserves.

The Steelers haven’t missed a beat without Bill Cowher at the helm

Is it just me, or has Mike Tomlin not gotten all of the credit he deserves for the Steelers’ success over the last two seasons?  Bill Cowher’s departure left a huge shadow behind, but Tomlin has more than escaped it, posting a better record in his first two years (22-10) than Cowher did (20-12) and getting to the title game two seasons quicker.  It’s rare that a coach succeeds immediately following the departure of a legend — and that’s an apt description of what Cowher had become in the Steel City — and it’s even rarer to see it happen twice — another apt description, considering Cowher’s success in following the even more imposing figure of Chuck Noll.

Tomlin has kept the Steelers right on track, however, overcoming injuries and the NFL’s toughest schedule to lead his team to one victory away from the ultimate prize.  Inexplicably, he didn’t receive a single vote in the AP’s Coach of the Year balloting (though he was honored as the Motorola Coach of the Year this week in Tampa).  Tomlin is already the only coach in Steelers’ history to win division titles in his first two seasons, and today he becomes the youngest man to ever coach in the Super Bowl.  With an impressive resume already that he will only bolster in the future, Tomlin has managed to accomplish all he has under the radar.  A win tonight might change that.

The pre-game show is HOW long?

Five hours?  Five frickin’ hours?  Are you kidding me?  What could we possibly need to know about the game that would take five hours to talk about?  I almost never watch the pre-game show — the benefit to having cable/satellite television is that there’s a wealth of other programming to check out, and I won’t be turning NBC on until they’re actually ready to kick off.

Speaking of things running too long, this entry is nearing that point (if it hadn’t made it there already).  So let’s get to the prediction that will almost certainly be wrong:

The Steelers will be your Super Bowl champions

I’m rooting for the Cardinals today because they’re such a compelling underdog.  Who actually would have predicted an Arizona playoff spot, never mind a Super Bowl berth, before the season began?  And how many of you were writing off the Cards as a “one-and-done” after the way they limped home at the end of the regular season?  I  definitety was one of those doing the writing, but I’m glad to have been wrong, as Arizona has been a great story to cheer for.

The Steelers?  Unless you’re a fan of the team already, they’re harder to root for and hard for me to get behind today.  There’s plenty I respect about them, but they’ve already won as much as any NFL team has in my lifetime — and for the same reason I was rooting for Tampa during the World Series, I’ll be wearing my Cardinal red today.

Not that I think it’ll matter much, for the Steelers are just the better team, no question in my mind.  The Steelers have a dominating defense, and even if Hines Ward had been unable to go (current reports say he’ll play, even if he isn’t 100%), they still have enough weapons on offense to score on the Cardinals’ defense, which as good as they played during the postseason, is still suspect and nowhere near the Steelers’ class.

As explosive as Arizona’s offense can be, Warner is best when he has time to throw, and I think Pittsburgh is going to make life uncomfortable for him all game.  The Cards can’t run the ball anyway, and against the Pittsburgh defense, it would be tempting for them to not even try.  I think Pittsburgh jumps out early, and the Cardinals spend the whole day trying to play catch-up, with limited success.

Final Score:

Pittsburgh 31 Arizona 14

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